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Israelis calm despite war in Iraq, do not expect to come under attack

JERUSALEM—After a week of war in Iraq, average Israelis are relaxed, with 73 percent saying in a survey published Friday that they do not carry the gas masks the Israeli government has urged everyone to keep with them at all times.

Israel's government continues on high alert, fearing that a desperate Saddam Hussein, as his last act, will order a missile strike on the Jewish nation.

But most Israelis do not seem to share that fear. A poll published Friday in the respected Ma'ariv newspaper found that a majority of Israelis do not expect to come under attack.

Seventy-three percent of the 600 Israelis polled, both Jews and Arabs, said they did not carry their gas masks; 68 percent said they did not think Iraq would attack Israel in the course of the war.

A whopping 92 percent of Israelis said they were following developments in the war two countries away, and 62 percent expected the United States to be involved in a protracted conflict there—double the number of a week ago, when Israelis expected the war to end quickly.

Even members of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Cabinet apparently were not bothering to carry their gas masks for a while, until an embarrassing report on state-run Israel Television showed ministers in public without their survival kits.

Israelis have been getting confused messages about the possibility of attack. Intelligence estimates have not detected any long-range missile launchers in western Iraq, Baghdad's 1991 launch pad for some 39 Scud attacks. They say Israel's risk of attack is very low.

But Israelis lately have worried that the U.S. and British failure so far to find any leftover Scuds that are believed to be hidden in Iraq means some missiles might still be sent Israel's way.

It costs Israel about $2 million a day to maintain the high alert, through a mobilization of 14,000 reservists on civil defense duty and the deployment of pilots patrolling the skies and anti-missile batteries.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.